Arthritis doesn’t only affect the elderly – 10 million UK adults, both young and old, have the condition, with women three times more likely than men to develop it. Research shows arthritis affects nearly 30,000 under-25s across the country, and women under the age of 40 are just as likely to develop certain types of the condition as more elderly groups. We sat down with GP and Arthritis Research UK spokesperson Dr Tom Margham to find out more…
Arthritis Isn’t What You Think
Arthritis isn’t just about stiff joints – the condition is actually an umbrella term spanning more than 200 different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease (when the body’s own immune system starts attacking the joints and organs) – and osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition, are the two most common forms.
It Could Be Linked To Inflammation
An increasing amount of research over the last decade has linked inflammation with many of today’s common ailments and debilitating disorders. We’re talking everything from eczema to acne and even arthritis. While scientists don’t know exactly what sets off the inflammation that triggers rheumatoid arthritis, some evidence suggests lifestyle factors such as smoking may increase your risk of developing the condition. Studies also suggest your genes play a role, but genetic factors alone do not cause arthritis.
57% of those affected by arthritis say they are in pain every single day and the vast majority of people describe it as a debilitating and life-restricting condition. Every year in the UK, 7.5 million working days are lost due to arthritic conditions, second only to stress and anxiety.
It Doesn’t Just Affect The Elderly
While osteoarthritis generally affects those over the age of 40, inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed at any age – from children right through to older adults. In both cases of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, women are significantly more likely than men to develop the condition.
Gut Health Could Play A Part
It’s long been suggested that the bacteria which live in our gut, mouth and elsewhere on our body (called the microbiome) may influence the development of certain diseases, including inflammatory arthritis. Early research has indeed identified that bacterial infection in your mouth can initiate inflammatory processes leading to rheumatoid arthritis, and other studies are also beginning to reveal certain types of gut bacteria may also have a similar effect.
It’s On The Rise
At present, one in six people in the UK has arthritis; by 2050, it’s estimated one in four will have the condition.
Old Injuries Can Trigger Arthritis
When young people develop arthritis, it’s often related to an old injury and is considered post-traumatic osteoarthritis. According to research on this topic, when adolescents or young adults suffer from a joint injury, X-rays show evidence of joint damage within a decade. In fact, those who have suffered from knee trauma are three to six times more likely to develop arthritis down the road – and more than half are under the age of 65.
It Can Cause Depression
There is a strong link between depression and arthritic conditions with some 68% of patients reporting depression when their pain is at its worst. If your condition affects your ability to do your job, socialise with friends or play with your own children, this can also lead to loneliness and financial difficulty. It’s worth noting that the chronic inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis makes patients twice as likely to develop heart disease than the average person. It can also damage other vital organs including the lungs, nervous system, kidneys, skin and eyes.
Diet Changes Can Ease Symptoms
A healthy, balanced diet can ease symptoms of arthritis – our bones need calcium to keep them strong, we need protein for building and repairing healthy muscles and carbs are vital for energy. Studies also suggest micronutrients called polyphenols can help prevent inflammation – try adding turmeric to stir fries and salad dressings and fresh ginger to your smoothies, snacking on fresh berries and replacing your daily cup of coffee with green tea. Plenty of healthy fats (but not excessive amounts – being overweight can put unnecessary pressure on the joints) are also crucial.
Seek Help If You’re Concerned
Almost everyone will experience aches and pains in their joints at some point – while it’s usually nothing to worry about, if the pain lasts more than a few days, is getting worse rather than better with time or you have swelling in your joints, pop to your GP.
For more information visit ArthritisResearchUK.org